BANGKOK • A firebrand Buddhist monk has been defrocked after being charged over the sale of amulets with fake royal seals, Thai police said yesterday, a dramatic fall from grace for a cleric who helped lead protests that toppled the former government.
The junta that seized power in 2014 after those protests has, in recent months, taken a strong line with Thailand's powerful Buddhist clergy after several major financial scandals.
However, the arrest of Luang Pu Buddha Issara, who ran a key Bangkok protest camp in the months before the coup, has surprised a public used to the monk's pro-junta diatribes.
He was charged with faking endorsements by revered late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of sacred amulets he was selling online, according to Major-General Maitri Chimcherd, commander of the Crime Suppression Division.
"The court denied his bail request," Maj-Gen Maitri said, adding that he was defrocked.
The complaint emerged after a collector of amulets, highly prized as lucky charms in Thailand, found that the monk's website was selling items purporting to have palace support. "When I checked on the website, there was no evidence of official permission to use royal initials," Mr Vichai Prasertsudsiri said.
Misappropriating the palace name is a dangerous game in Thailand, where the monarchy is shielded by one of the world's strictest lese majeste laws.
Issara avoided the royal defamation charge, but still could face a maximum 20 years in jail under the forgery allegation.
Monks are formally outlawed from political roles but for several years, Issara straddled the religious and the secular sphere as a hardline critic of the former government of Yingluck Shinawatra.